One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – containers for things become containers for hope

The Trash


There are approximately 17 million TEU of containers in the world’s current shipping inventory. Twenty foot Equivalent Units are the industry standard 8′ x 8′ x 20′ steel container – a  40′ container is two TEU’s. 700 thousand of these  lay unused in US ports alone (it is estimated that over 10,000 containers are lost at sea each year). And, as they also take as much energy to recycle as to make new,  they tend to stack up.

These shipping containers are:

  • Built from heavy gauge steel with a carrying capacity of 60,000 lbs.
  • Fully loaded they can be stacked 7 high.
  • Standard containers are 20ft or 40ft and weigh 4800lbs and 8030lbs respectively.
  • Cross sectional dimensions are ; standard – 8ft wide x 8ft tall and high cube – 8ft wide x 9.5ft and 10.5 ft tall giving a floor space of 160 sq ft and 320 sq ft.
  • Since the US is a net importer, these containers accumulate and are available for sale for $900 to $1400 depending on quantity, condition and modifications.

The Hopeful


Areas affected by disaster are generally left without locally derivable resources for infrastructure construction / re-construction. While food, water and medical aid can be quickly transported and distributed, shelter is often handled in an ad hock and temporary manner that often takes on a permanence that exacerbates and prolongs the effects of the disaster and hampers efforts to establish normalcy and longer term reconstruction.

Examples of this dynamic can be seen with the standard tent city established after an emergency:

  • Tent encampments require large areas of open ground.
  • Tents are susceptible to damage from the environment – this propensity increases with the tent’s continued exposure to the elements.
  • The populations requiring shelter often outstrip the capacity and number of tents – this leads to substandard shelters being constructed with locally available scrap and, if available, looted materials.
  • Because tent cities are densely populated, fire and disease outbreaks are a constant concern.

The Treasure


The use of containers as the basic building blocks of reconstruction in devastated areas can start with the most basic kit deployed at the start of an emergency. Once in place, the modules can provide an almost endless variety of permanent and mobile housing for a reorganizing population. With 17 million containers currently in use the number of available building units will only grow as the current inventory ages and is replaced. The opportunity to benefit from this cheap, durable and easily modified resource is equal only to the demands of emergency recovery and third world redevelopment.